20 of the Best Anti-Bullying Picture Books for Teachers
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In the past five years, bullying has become a hot topic in school yards and parent-teacher meetings across the country. It isn't that bullying incidents have increased dramatically, it is just that parents and teachers and students are all far more aware and conscious of the threat of bullying. One strategy to combat bullying is to try and nip the problem in the bud early and often. Because of this strategy, the popularity of picture books covering the topic of bullying has risen. Here is a non-exhaustive, non-comprehensive list of some of our favorite picture books about bullying. The books are listed in no order and as is always the case with these lists, there are likely dozens of excellent books that will be left off this list. That doesn't mean they are worthy of inclusion however, it just means that we don't want to take a year to put together this list.
The Oak Inside the Acorn by Max Lucado
Lucado's immensely popular story about an acorn growing into an oak tree isn't about bullying specifically but it is a relevant story. The jist of the story is that the little acorn is struggling to find his/her purpose since he doesn't bare any fruit or any flowers. As the acorn continues to grow, he soon realizes that everyone has a different special niche. We don't want to spoil the whole story but Lucado does a wonderful job touching on the topics of self-confidence and comfortability in one's own skin. It does have some religious undertones as Lucado is a minister, but the overall message of the story appeals to religious and non-religious readers alike and the illustrations are colorful and detailed. It is an exceptional story for young children learning to find their special talents and traits.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
A very similar story to The Oak Inside the Acorn, Ludwig writes about a boy named Brian who is basically "invisible" to his classmates and the other children at school. As the story continues, Brian befriends a new student and together they bring out the best in each other and help each other grow more confident socially. The story is a great lesson in the importance of friendship, in helping quieter or more reclusive students and how small acts of kindness can make all the difference. The best part of the book is how relatable the story is. There are students across the country who have found themselves in Brian's situation before and thus the story has a lot of applicable lessons to be taught. Illustrations by Patrice Barton are unique and really help accompany the mood of the story. It is a must read for elementary school students and their parents.
Tales from the Bully Box by Cat Woods, Sarah Tregay, Lauren Neil, Steven Carman, Linda Brewer, Eden Grey, K.R. Smith, Precy Larkins
Tales from the Bully Box is an example of real life stories that can make an impact as well. The book is really a collection of short stories about bullying from students of all walks of life. The subject matter is diverse and the book also includes discussion questions for students to walk through with their parents and/or teachers. The stories also don't just give examples of bullying but also give examples of how to deal with bullying in impactful ways. There is something about the fact that these stories are from real students that help them really hit home and in many ways, the stories can help students understand the impact of their words and their actions.
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev
When a boy's pet elephant is explicitly excluded from joining the local Pet Club, the boy sets out to show the other animals the error in their ways. Taeeun Yoo does an incredible job with the illustrations and Mantchev's story about friendship and inclusion is smartly written and full of important lessons. The story is told from the boy's perspective, adding depth to the lessons within and the story is so highly rated on Amazon and other sites that it has become an instant best-seller. By the end of the story, you can't help but root for the little boy and his elephant who, rather than tell the other pets "I told you so", decides to turn the other cheek in an impressive display of inclusion. The book works for children ranging in age from 2-10 and its message about acceptance is worth teaching to adults as well.
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
Blessed with some inspired illustrations from David Catrow, this book is a true feel-story about self-confidence. Mary Lou Melon isn't a traditional beauty, but she is proud of herself nonetheless and so when a bully picks on her at her new school, Mary Lou shrugs him off and keeps doing her. The most refreshing part of the story is that Mary Lou doesn't deal with much doubt, she just keeps living her life regardless of what anyone says about her. This was Lovell's first stab at authoring a book and if the universally positive reviews are any indication, she should probably go ahead and write a few more.
Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry
Sometimes the simplest message is the most effective message and that much is true in Ferry's ode to friendship. Ferry intentionally kept the story lighthearted and adventurous and it is easy for students to identify with the quiet Stone, the more formal Stick, or even the prickly Pinecone. The story is told in rhyming couplets and its lessons on the importance of friendship in the face of bullying are easy to spot. Plus, illustrations from Tom Lichtenheld aren't overly dramatic and but the colors help bring out the warm and tender emotions.
Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney
Gilbert Goat is a bit of a bully who makes school for the other animals not as fun. Luckily Llama Llama isn't afraid to let Gilbert know what he thinks of his behavior. Even more fortunately, Gilbert has the self-awareness to see the error in his ways and everyone ends up friends. Okay, so the characters aren't quite that developed but this is a book for children in preschool and kindergarten, so you must be impressed with the young animals' diplomacy. The story will make young children laugh and will teach them that turning the other cheek is the best strategy when facing a bully. The pastel illustrations are easy on the eyes as well. Anna you are forever remembered by Llama Llama and the impact it's made on our youth.
The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Teasing by Stan and Jan Berenstain
The Berenstain Bears series is a classic and even it takes on bullying in a fun and educational way. When Brother Bear starts teasing Sister Bear because he thinks it is funny, he becomes focal point of an important lesson to be taught. When Brother Bear becomes the target of the teasing, he quickly learns what it is like to be on the other end of the nasty remarks. This wasn't the Berenstains' only stab at tackling the subject of bullying, but its unique perspective on teasing and fun lesson make it an easy standout in the series.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
Ferdinand is perhaps one of the most famous anti-bullying bulls in children's literature, thanks entirely to his role as the main character in the classic book by Leaf. Accompanied by the detailed pen sketches of Robert Lawson, Ferdinand is a cool, calm and collected bull that has plenty to teach about the virtues of pacifism and contentment. The story has a feel-good ending that will resonate with children and adults alike and it is hard for everyone not to wish they had a little bit more Ferdinand in them when they finally put the book down.
A Glass Full of Rumors by A.M. Marcus
Already an accomplished self-help and self-improvement author, A.M. Marcus was on the mark again with A Glass Full of Rumors. The book is quick and easy to read, the storytelling is top-notch and the illustrations from Elisa Bindi are colorful and bright. Children won't struggle to pick up on the dangers and harm of rumors and they may even get to learn a bit about Socrates long before high school. The book has a fun and happy ending and teachers and parents rave about the usefulness of the message and the lighthearted content.
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Chrysanthemum is an award-winning and immensely popular children's book from the early 1990s that deals with self-esteem and teasing in a fun read that may even make parents legitimately laugh out loud once or twice. If you have a unique name, chances are, you have probably been teased for it. Chrysanthemum is a new kindergartner who, as you might imagine, is dealing with that same issue. The teasing from other girls is tough to read, but the story has a much-needed happy and light ending and seamlessly weaves lessons for children and their parents on how to handle hurtful teasing at school.
Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex
Go ahead. Think of a word that rhymes with orange. We will wait. Hats off to Rex, who had us smirking throughout his fresh read about embracing differences and celebrating absurdity. The concept is funny. The songs are funny. The made-up words are creative and funny. And the illustrations, which Rex also did, aren't too shabby either. It has some worthwhile lessons for children mixed into and in between the singing and frankly any time you can work in a lesson on the pronunciation of the name Friedrich Nietzsche into a children's book, you deserve a pat on the back for your efforts.
Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy by Bob Sornson PhD
A lifelong teacher and school administrator, Bob Sornson is also the founder of the Early Learning Foundation and the developer of an early learning success model. This makes him the perfect author for a book about young kids learning about empathy for the first time. The story follows Emily as she learns about how empathy changes her perception of people. Kindergarten and early elementary school teachers use Stand in My Shoes as a key resource for teaching students about having respect for and showing kindness to others. It is easy to read and Shelley Johannes does a terrific job of portraying the emotions in the illustrations. It is less of a story than a learning resource but it is still fun to read.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Wonder is a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and will soon be turned into a movie starring Julia Roberts, so its popularity is unquestioned. It is a tremendous feat of storytelling by Palacio and it encompasses multiple perspectives as young Auggie Pullman learns to navigate 5th grade while dealing with noticeable facial deformities that cause most people to avoid him. Parents' of children with similar issues rave about how relatable Auggie is and they appreciate the attention to detail that Palacio put into portraying Auggie's struggles. The book is full of lessons but just generally speaking, the humanity of children like Auggie and the compassion of his friends and family are the biggest takeaways from a wonderful read.
Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers by Dave Pilkey
The Captain Underpants' series is a personal favorite and when George and Harold travel back in time and are forced to confront sixth-grade bully Kipper Krupp, Pilkey is at his best. Without the services of their trusty Captain Underpants (who wasn't invented yet), George and Harold are forced to outwit their tormenting bully and Pilkey comes up with an exciting and lighthearted way for them to win. The book is lighthearted and goofy by design, making it a fun read for older elementary school students and even middle schoolers, but Pilkey also manages to weave in some legitimately worthwhile anti-bullying messages, which is why it lands on this list.
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
The story isn't really about bullying, it is more about helping students and teachers learn the positive impact of encouragement and reinforcement, but it works on this list because of its important lessons. How about some kudos for Mr. Falker? The teacher recognizes that his student, Trisha, is dyslexic and that while she is a terrific artist, she struggles with words on a page. Luckily, Mr. Falker is the type of teacher who doesn't just support her, he also encourages her to overcome her disability. What makes the story especially meaningful is that Polacco, a well-known children's author, struggled with dyslexia herself. The story won't wow you with twists and turns, but it will make you smile by the end.
Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose
The father-daughter combination of Phillip and Hannah Hoose originally created this story as a song but the cartoon sketches from Debbie Tilley and the clever lyrics make the story just as worthwhile in the pages of a book. Everyone has had the urge to squish an ant. But the Hooses turn that idea on its head by asking what if the ant could speak and feel? Again, the story itself doesn't directly touch on bullying, but it does talk about not just following the crowd and learning to have empathy for other humans and creatures. It challenges the assumptions of children and does so in a playful, sing-song way.
Say Something by Peggy Moss
Moss tackles the ever-present issue of teasing by specifically talking about what someone should say when they see someone else being teased. The main character of the story sees teasing happening all around her, but at first, she stays silent. When the tables are turned on her, she quickly realizes that being an innocent bystander won't work any longer. She uses the newfound empathy to comfort other targets of bullying and prove the harmfulness of teasing and the power of friendship. The illustrations from Lea Lyon do a wonderful job of depicting the emotions of the characters and Moss even includes some discussion questions at the end to make sure the lessons really hit home.
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
Kilodavis writes on a topic that many children's books steer clear of, gender identity. Inspired by her relationship with her own son, Kilodavis writes about a boy named Dyson that likes to wear dresses, tiaras and prefers pink. In fact, Kilodavis calls the book a work of non-fiction. It is a story of compassion, acceptance, unconditional parental love and friendship. We like it because rather than avoid a tricky subject, Kilodavis crashes headlong through gender stereotypes to explain the importance of tolerance and the evils of judgment. The words are spaced out through the pages and child-like illustrations but the message is easy to understand.
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts
A Grammy award-winning children's musician by day, Justin Roberts, with help from illustrator Christian Robinson, tells a rhyming tale about a small girl who, despite her size, stands up to bullying in an effective way. The content is light (the book is designed for kindergartners after all) but the story moves quickly and the messages hit home with regularity. The illustrations are vibrant and adorable and only make it easier to root for little Sally McCabe as she crusades against bullying on the playground.
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